For several years IoT has been one of those annoying acronyms at conferences. In reality, it already existed in a number of M2M applications like fleet management. But actual innovation and new applications in Africa were thin on the ground, which is worrying as it forms part of the 5G business case. This week Russell Southwood talks to start-up founder Dave Okech, Aquarech about using IoT for fish farming.
The fish farmers on Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, build cages and put them in the water. These cages hold the fish, which they then feed, much as you might fatten a chicken or a cow on land. The key to getting them to their best weight involves knowing: the size of the fish, the number of fish and the number of fish in the caged pond.
Okech was one of these fish farmers: “When you measure water temperature, you do it once a week manually and assume it’s the same across the week. It’s not. So I started thinking about how could you automate the process of reading water temperature”.
The idea of IoT fitted the bill: you could use a water sensor but it needed to work at really low cost:”I wanted to use the IoT to work out the pH level and the amount of dissolved oxygen.” Knowing all this information would improve productivity and lower costs, “putting money in the pockets of fish farmers.”
“If you’re able to access these three parameters (water temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen levels) you can feed more accurately and get better fish growth.” The additional factor is using particular kind of feed: extruded, pelleted feed: “There are three specific brands that are high quality and improve yield.”
“We need to get away from locally produced mash feed that sinks to the bottom. This other feed floats and tilapia is a top feeder. This way we are able to reduce costs by up to 25%.”
The IoT sensor is placed in the caged pond and communicates with an app on a smartphone. It relays the water temperature three times a day and using an in-built calculator it tells the fish farmer how much feed is needed at a particular time.
Aquarech’s IoT partner is Liquid Telecom. It has built out an IoT network that covers 85% of Kenya’s population and is in the process of using it to understand how real-life applications can be developed.
Okech is targeting having 1,000 fish farmers on the platform by the end of 2020. So far he has been running it as a pilot with 347 fish farmers but it goes live this week. The app also operates as an e-commerce platform that allows the user to buy the special feed for the fish and it also operates as a place where fish can be sold online to buyers:”I am an aggregator of fish, enabling small farmers to supply fish to traders on the platform.”
The plan is to roll out the system across Sub-Saharan Africa, with the next two countries being Tanzania and Uganda. Okech already has eyes on Asia:”We’ve had calls from India, Myanmar and the Phillippines.” He estimates that there are 37,000 fish farmers of this kind in Kenya and a million across Sub-Saharan Africa.